Smile Politely

Champaign Public Library Opens in Modern Facility Today

The Friday evening before Champaign Public Library’s Jan. 6 grand opening, the new 122,600 square-foot space is abuzz with activity. Maintenance crews work away at replacement compact disc racks — an unexpected change that needs to be made two days before the unveiling. Other than that minor delay, books are on shelves; the furniture appears in order and the children’s desk projects a vibrant red, green and blue glow.

Champaign Public Library’s old 40,000-square-foot structure stands in the shadow of the new building. Compared to the green design of the new space — with its video game collection and Latte Da! Café, which has indoor and outdoor seating — the old library looks like a dinosaur.

In the new library, as patrons enter the glass front doors, a book drop with an electronic voice awaits. Next comes a row of computers used for the new self-checkout system the library will implement after its opening. To use the touch screen system, patrons place their items on a black pad where the sensors identify each selection.

“It can read them all at the same time almost instantaneously,” Elizabeth Otto, promotional services manager, says. “Your items end up on the screen; you touch a few buttons, print out your receipt, get your library card back and you are good to go.”

Initially staff members will monitor the self-checkout systems until patrons get the hang of the new checkout method. But ultimately, the area may employ one or two staff members to help, similar to a grocery store self-checkout.

The other major operational change made by the library won’t be so obvious to the public.

It begins after members deposit their returned items in the computerized drop off in the library’s front entrance or the Healey Street drive-up. The dropped items travel down a conveyor belt where they are checked in by computer via a code tagged on the book. The item is deposited in one of 19 bins representing areas in the library, such as children’s books or DVDs. This behind-the-scenes process eliminates the labor-intensive chore of sorting.

The decision to upgrade to the new technology is in part to keep up with the anticipated growth that comes with opening a new library. Otto says the library’s number of patrons has grown steadily by about seven or eight percent in recent years. When public libraries open a new space, membership can jump dramatically.

“This new automated system is a big part of how we are going to keep up with what we anticipate will be much busier,” Otto says.

The library has also increased the number of computers from 19 at the old space to a staggering 87 computer terminals, including a quiet computer room, which will host classes such as an email course taught by librarians. In a few weeks, the library will be equipped with wireless Internet access.

Groups (with and without a need to surf the web) will benefit from the library’s improved meeting spaces. Additional features in include five study rooms, a discovery room for young kids, a children’s programming space and “Teen Space,” a dedicated area for kids that houses computers, a projection system and speakers for listening to music.

“It’s a whole new thing for us to have a dedicated area just for teens, and of course we are right across from Edison Middle School, so we get a lot of middle school kids and some high school kids who come here after school, and this will be their area,” Otto says.

According to Otto, the Chicago-based architecture firm Ross Barney Architects, led by University of Illinois graduate Carol Ross Barney, implemented quality materials built to last, which wasn’t necessarily the case with Champaign Public Library’s former headquarters, built 31 years ago.

“[Ross Barney Architects] built the building with at least a 50-year life span and part of that picture is the quality of materials,” Otto says. “You can tell that everything is nice and built to last. Then also, in the basement, there is a significant part of the lower level that isn’t finished out right now, and it’s space for future expansion.”

Part of the floor plans for creating a library “built-to-last” included employing green design. From skylights interspersed throughout the library to motion-detector lighting in all staff areas, the library’s environmentally conscious design can be noted throughout.

The largest energy consumer in buildings like Champaign Public Library isn’t heating; it’s air-conditioning. So, another energy saving feature, Panelite glass, is designed in a honeycomb fashion that reflects a lot of the direct sunlight that enters the building from the south wall. On the west wall, the architects added copper mesh panels to get more sun in the winter when the light and warmth are needed and less in the summer months.

The library’s next project is to demolish the old library building, which will make room for a 190-space parking lot.

Champaign Public Library opens to the public Sunday, Jan. 6 during an unveiling from 1-6 p.m. at 200 W. Green St. in Champaign. For information, go to or call 217-403-2070.

Photos by Justine Bursoni

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